WE have seen how the great Ancestral
Spirit of the Shona people possessed
a young girl (kasikana) and travelled
south from Guruuswa in Tanganyika
to explore the land between the
Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers, with
a view to bequeathing it to his
In this and the next article we shall try
to unravel more information about
the roots of the Shona by exploring
the lineages of their ancestors to see
how oral history helps to reveal their
Future discussions will explore how
some of the totems of the different
Shona groups came to be established.
The central institution of spirit
mediums called mhondoro also will
be explored to see how it links to the
roots of the Shona people.
The people who were led by the
powerful ancestral spirit whose
medium was ‘Gumbi Nehanda’ must
have been a closely related group
consisting of people of the same
family/clan with one great ancestor.
The generally accepted view is that all
the Shona and their close relatives
such as the Venda and Kalanga, derive
from one common great ancestor,
He is the earliest known ancestor of
the Shona according to oral tradition.
At ‘Mapungubwe’, one of the shrines
of the Shona, there is a village called
In the Matombo Hills, a road that
branches left on the way to Mzilikazi’s
grave is named ‘Tovera Road’.
‘Tovera’ is recognised as the Great
Ancestor of the Shona.
His name appears in the lyrics of
songs sung at various cultural and
spiritual ceremonies where the people
call on him to help solve their life
challenges such as disease and
Among the Nambiya, ‘Tovera’ also is
recognised as a great ancestor of the
One such song that recognises Tovera
as the great ancestor of the Shona
includes the following lyrics:
“Tovera mudzimu dzoka!
‘Mambiri’ was the son of Tovera.
He was the head of two (mbiri)
famous villages in Guruuswa,
Tanganyika, where the Shona people
His people were called ‘Mambiri’s
children (vana vaMambiri).
They also came to be called ‘VaMbire’.
The name has persisted until today;
with one of the districts in
Mashonaland Central province being
‘Mambiri’ was the father of ‘Murenga
This is the legendary ‘Murenga’ after
whom the liberation wars of the
people of Zimbabwe are named.
He is the great ancestor whose
fighting spirit is credited with inspiring
the people of Zimbabwe to fight the
invading ‘vapambevhu’ and
‘vapambepfumi’ from Britain in all
phases of the Chimurenga liberation
‘Murenga’ was the father of
‘Chaminuka, Gumbi (Nehanda) and
‘Mushavatu’ (Venda spelling) or
The earliest known spirit medium of
the Great Ancestor of the Shona,
most likely, ‘Tovera’ himself, was
Murenga’s son Gumbi.
After Gumbi the ancestral spirit
possessed the young girl ‘kasikana’ he
gave his name as ‘Gumbi Nehanda’.
It was after possessing ‘Kasikana’ that
the Great Ancestral Spirit ventured
south to look for a suitable land to
settle his people.
A previous article gave details of the
‘Gumbi Nehanda’ legend.
The Gumbi Nehanda spirit is the main
ancestral spirit (likely Tovera himself)
that guided the children of Mambiri
It preferred to possess the female
descendants of Mushavatu, younger
brother to Chaminuka and Gumbi, all
three being sons of Murenga
The spirit medium ‘Nyakasikana’
carried the Great Nehanda spirit
across the Zambezi and into
Only once is it reported that the
Nehanda spirit possessed ‘Nyamita’,
daughter of Mutota of the Nzou
During this period, David Livingstone,
the Scottish explorer, reports that he
personally saw Nyamita, the spirit
medium, strike the waters of a
flooded river, which waters then
separated allowing people to pass
This is similar to the Biblical Moses
striking the waters of the Red Sea to
allow the children of Israel to escape
their Egyptian pursuers.
The story is also told of how Gutsa,
Chiweshe and Hwata, sons of Chief
Nyashanu, fleeing their enemies from
Buhera to seek refuge with their
brother Seke, found the Save River in
A female spirit medium (svikiro) that
they had forced to accompany them
struck the waters of the flooded Save
The waters separated allowing the
three and their consultant spirit
medium and her dog to escape
The three worked closely with the
Nehanda spirit medium, Charwe,
otherwise well known as Mbuya
Nehanda during the first Chimurenga.
Mbuya Nehanda, Hwata and Gutsa
were all sentenced to death and
hanged for the killing of Pollard, a
white settler and Native Commissioner
One cannot help, but speculate that
the spirit medium who accompanied
the three descendants of Mushavatu
from Chief Nyashanu’s country in
Buhera, was indeed our Mbuya
At the time of the arrival of the
whitemen, earlier predicted by
Chaminuka whose spirit medium
dwelt near Chitungwiza, the Nehanda
Spirit resumed the regular practice of
possessing only female descendants
of Mushavatu, of the ‘Mhofu’ totem.
Chaminuka, son of Murenga was also
a ‘mhondoro’ spirit that possessed
only mediums of the Mushavatu
descendants (vaera Mhofu).
Just before the arrival of white
invaders, Chaminuka’s spirit medium
was ‘Pasipamire Gavaza’ of the Mhofu
totem who lived in the Mhondoro
area; itself named for the
concentration of the spirit mediums
Through his medium (svikiro),
Chaminuka predicted the coming of
the white invaders whom he
described as ‘vasina mabvi’ and the
Chaminuka was well known for his
mysterious exploits (mashiripiti).
Ndebele warriors failed to attack and
destroy his shrine at Chitungwiza.
They would see it from afar, but on
getting close, the place would be a
pool of water, a hill or just thick
impenetrable fog or mist.
Chaminuka’s medium was killed at the
orders of the Ndebele King
Lobengula, who had invited him
(Pasipamire) to Bulawayo.
Ndebele spears failed to penetrate his
body until Chaminuka advised them
to give the spear to a young boy who
then stabbed his medium to death.
Another great ancestral spirit was
His medium (svikiro) was Gumbo
Kaguvi worked closely with Nehanda
to mobilise the war effort in the First
Chimurenga in the 1890s.
Mbuya Charwe and Gumbo
reShumba, the spirit mediums of
Nehanda and Kaguvi, respectively, and
both descendants of Mushavatu, also
of the ‘Mhofu’ totem, were arrested,
tried and hanged by the white
invaders for organising the rebellion
some time in 1898.
What we have shown are the lineages
of the Shona and their close relatives.
We have demonstrated that they were
a close knit group bound by their
ancestral spirits who guided them
south to Zimbabwe.
We have shown the total involvement
of the Shona spirit mediums in
defending the security and
independence of their people.
We have seen that the Shona
ancestral spirits preferred to possess
mediums of the Mhofu totem, with
the Nehanda spirit only possessing
In the next article we shall more
closely look at how the Shona ended
up with many totems in addition to
the eland (Mhofu).